cows in field

DC Update, April 1, 2009

Access to pasture update, status of new appointees, and the generally positive outlook for organic in Washington.

By Ed Maltby, Executive Director, NODPA

As Washington starts to settle itself down for work it was very apparent that organic has a lot of political support with many agency employees very interested in finding out why their “boss” and his wife are so interested in organics. The Whitehouse garden and the USDA Peoples Garden are being dug and composted (with Rodale compost) with a fervor that matches the election of the new President. PCO has been lined up to certify the USDA operation, or will it be the President, as it’s the farmer that holds the certification! Not to be outdone the USDA ERS has a roof top garden and all USDA Consulates around the world will at least have window boxes if not their own gardens for Earth Day. Situated on the corner of Jefferson Avenue and 12th Street, The Peoples Garden is a great opportunity to educate the public on organic agriculture with raised beds, container garden and cover crops. We are hopeful that this interest will translate into a special designated point-person in the Secretary’s Office to help coordinate all organic practices and programs within the USDA, including implementation of organic provisions of 2008 Farm Bill.

Access to pasture: The over 80,000 comments received on the proposed pasture rule has slowed the process as all comments and attachments have to be reviewed by NOP employees (some comments had many thousands of pages of attachments with form letters), before being posted and then the comments have to be reviewed for content which will need to be answered in any Final Rule. Apparently all the comments have been collated and the process of sifting through the two large binders to synthesize the comments and look at the next course of action. NODPA is working with all its partners to push for the allocation of staff time to get a Final Rule out and stress the importance to the new administration of a final rulemaking with immediate implementation and enforcement.

USDA NOP chief Barbara Robinson announced that she will be recommending that NOP moves out of the Transportation Branch and have its own Branch within AMS which will give it a higher profile and a Director that can devote all their time to NOP. NOP will also be hiring more staff by June of this year.

On Friday March 27, the USDA Organic Working Group held its annual Stakeholder Meeting. The room was full of representatives from different programs within USDA who were intent on explaining all the work they do, or will do, to support organics. With over 30 attendees the level of interest from different agencies within USDA was very apparent and promises great things for the future, especially on research and data reporting.

Kathleen Merrigan will have her confirmation hearing for USDA Deputy Secretary on Wednesday April 1st and hopefully will be able to answer all written questions and be confirmed before the Spring Recess which runs from April6-17. Once Kathleen is confirmed and sworn it will be a great step forward in implementing the new administration’s policies. She has been seen wondering the corridors of USDA already getting her bearings ready to spring into action.

Dave White has been appointed as the director of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service by Ag Secretary Vilsack. Dave White, who was named acting NRCS chief in January, is a career conservationist with the agency. He served in the Senate Ag Committee help crafting the conservation title for the most recent farm bills, for 2002 and 2008. And, he’s provided technical and management expertise in Missouri, South Carolina, Washington, DC and Montana. White was state conservationist in Montana for six years.